Ninth LDS President David O. McKay, once wrote:
“The fallacy that Jesus has done all for us, and live as we may, if on our deathbed, we only believe, we shall be saved in his glorious presence, is most pernicious. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, has given us the means whereby man may obtain eternal happiness and peace in the kingdom of our Father, but man must work out his own salvation through obedience to the eternal principles and ordinances of the gospel. For centuries men have been blinded by the false teaching of ‘belief alone sufficient’; and today there is manifest on every hand the sorry plight into which this and other perverse doctrines have thrown the pseudo-Christian sects. The world is in sore need at the present time of the gospel of individual effort—the gospel of faith and works. He who will not grasp this means provided him, will sink beneath the waves of sin and falsehood” (Gospel Ideals, p.8).
As with all Mormon leaders, McKay insists that faith in Christ’s sacrifice was not sufficient to bring believers into His glorious presence. Individual effort, he claims, completes the formula. But how much effort must a Mormon expend? Can a Mormon hope to achieve exaltation by keeping some of the commandments or by failing to repent of all of his sins? Of this Mormon leaders have been very clear.
Eleventh Mormon President Harold B. Lee offered this admonition to Latter-day Saints:
“In one sentence, repentance means turning from that which we have done wrong in the sight of the Lord and never repeating that mistake again. Then we can have the miracle of forgiveness.” (Ye Are the Light of the World: Selected Sermons and Writings of Harold B. Lee, 1974, p.321).
Lee’s successor, Spencer W. Kimball offered these somber warnings to all members of the LDS Church:
“Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. Again and again in different phraseology and throughout the centuries the Lord has reminded man so that he could never have excuse. And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp.9-10).
“This earth life is the time to repent. We cannot afford to take any chances of dying an enemy to God” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.15).
“And let us not suppose that in calling people to repentance the prophets are concerned only with the more grievous sins such as murder, adultery, stealing, and so on, nor only with those persons who have not accepted the gospel ordinances. All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.16)
“That armor is incomplete without steadfast effort to live God’s commandments. Without such effort repentance too is incomplete. And incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.212).
In an article written to Mormon youth, Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said,
“Another prerequisite or condition to repentance is to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21; 1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thing can dwell with God. There are no exceptions” ( “The Message: Do You Know How to Repent?” New Era, November 1999, p.7).
All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome. Past mistakes must never be repeated. All this must be accomplished in this mortal life. How many Latter-day Saints have you met who have achieved this?
Oftentimes when a Mormon is challenged on their inability to meet the aforementioned demands, they will insist that they will be able to do so in the next life. In support of thissome may point to an obscure statement in the King Follett Discourse where Smith compares climbing a ladder with learning all the principles of exaltation. Smith claimed that such an education “is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” There are a few problems with assuming this means that a Mormon can repent after death.
1) Smith is not discussing repentance in this part of his sermon. The context has to do with how God’s kingdoms are increased based on the faithfulness of Mormon believers.
2) If putting off repentance until you are on your deathbed is pernicious (as defined by David O. McKay), how can waiting until after death be considered any less pernicious?
3) Hope of doing any sort of “work” after this mortal probation undermines a clear warning in the Book of Mormon.
This last point is particularly important since it addresses the dire situation involving every Mormon who thinks they can get things right with their God after mortality.
I realize the following citation is rather lengthy, but it is absolutely essential when it comes to the requirements laid upon each and every Latter-day Saint. Alma 34:31-35 states:
“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked” (Emphasis mine).
In an April 2007, conference message titled “This Day,” Henry B. Eyring, now a member of the LDS First Presidency, quoted from Alma 34 and warned Mormons about the dangers of “procrastinating what we must do here and now to have eternal life” (Ensign, May 2007, p.90). Nowhere in his talk did he ever hint of a possible post-mortem repentance.
Despite his efforts to encourage members that they “will have days enough if only we don’t waste them,” Eyring said, “It is hard to know when we have done enough for the Atonement to change our natures and so qualify us for eternal life” (p. 90).
In that last statement lies the real tragedy. For Mormons and Christians alike, sin is a daily issue that dogs all of us. The difference is, Christians rely on the imputed righteousness of Christ to cleanse from sin and ultimately meet the demands necessary to enjoy eternal life. It was what Christ did on our behalf (His works) that make the believer right with God and prepared for eternity. Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921) explains, “Justification by faith, we see, is not to be set in contradiction to justification by works. It is set in contradiction only to justification by our own works. It is justification by Christ’s Works.”
According to Eyring, Mormons can only be cleansed from sin by personally “qualifying for the effects of the atonement.” A Mormon who can’t say with assurance that they have successfully repented of all of their sins makes it clear that in their hearts, they know some things are still left undone. Hence, they are guilty of violating Alma 34:35, since logically and practically, they are all, at best, only achieving what Kimball called a “partial repentance.” If a Mormon wants to believe the Book of Mormon is doctrinally true, their future is spelled out for them. To paraphrase Alma 34:35:
The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from them, and hath no place in them, and the devil will have all power over them; and this will be the final state of all Mormons who procrastinate their repentance.
There is good news, however. God freely offers eternal life to all who recognize their inability to personally “qualify” to be in God’s presence by their own efforts. He asks all those who are burdened with such an impossible task to find rest in Christ’s completed works. The choice is simple, a Latter-day Saint can continue living a defeated life, knowing they will never be good enough to meet God’s high standard of perfection, or they can renounce the false teachings of Mormonism and trust in the complete and perfect works of Christ alone. Only then will they receive the full effects of the atonement. Only then will they experience that “peace that passes all understanding.”
For more on the topic of salvation, click here.
For a podcast on the issue of repentance, click here.